MHS boys volleyball team wins league, honors seniors

The five seniors on the Malibu High boys volleyball pose together before their last home match with the Sharks. Contributed photo.

The Malibu High Sharks boys volleyball team will host the Calabasas Coyotes in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Boys Volleyball Division 4 playoffs on Thursday at 6 p.m.

The playoff contest falls over a week after the Sharks finished the regular season as Citrus Coast League champions for the second consecutive season. Malibu tied with Carpinteria atop the four-team league.

Before finishing last season first in the league standings, the last time a Malibu boys volleyball team had captured a league title was 2002. 

Malibu head coach Derek Saenz said winning back-to-back league championships feels good. 

“Winning never gets old,” he said. 

The squad solidified their claim to the league title with a 3-1 home victory over Nordoff. The evening was also Malibu’s senior night. 

Twelfth-grade volleyball players Diogo Fernandez, Finn Kelly, Luke Levin, Maxim Podigore, and Nate Mulder were recognized before their squad served and rallied their way victory. 

Saenz described the graduating quintet as a good group that is also unique. When Saenz started coaching the team four years ago, none of the players were on the volleyball team. Kelly played baseball initially in high school, and Mulder was at a different school. This is the first season that Fernandez, Levin, and Podigore had stepped on the volleyball court.

“Finn and Nate are by far the most experienced,” Saenz said. “They are both going to play in college. The others stepped in to play the sport, and all the seniors have been amazing teammates. Some have never played the sport before, but yet they still want to win.” 

The coach said having a winning league record this season was a bit easier to do this year than last year because there have been less COVID-19 obstacles to deal with. The senior night win gave the Sharks a 5-1 record in the Citrus Coast League and a season-ending overall record of 12-16. 

Malibu, a strong passing team, recorded wins over non-league opponents Agoura, Camarillo, Chaminade, Hawthorne Math & Science Academy, Le Lycee and Viewpoint. In the Citrus Coast League, the Sharks downed Nordoff twice, Hueneme three times and Carpinteria once. 

Saenz credited Kelly and Mulder, possibly the best hitter in Division IV, for being good leaders of the 10-member squad, which had five first-season volleyball players.

“They never got frustrated with their teammates,” Saenz said. “They are very mature.”

Malibu, Saenz said, improved steadily throughout the season. One sign of the squad’s improvement occurred on senior night, the coach said. Nordoff, a squad with a player that is around 6-foot-7, was fired up to play and beat the Sharks in the first set, but Malibu then won three straight sets to claim the victory.

“The sport is about maturity and focus,” Saenz said. “We didn’t play well the first set. It’s a matter of being resilient. They showed a lot of mental toughness.” 

The Sharks advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs for the first time in program history last May. 

The victor of the Malibu/Calabasas contest will face the winner of Oak Park/Foothill Tech on Saturday. The winner of that contest will play in the quarterfinals on May 4. The semifinals are on May 7 and the division’s championship game is on May 14.